Putting in the work to get the extra edge

Sprinter didn’t start running track until first year of high school



Junior Ja’Maun Charles, front, races in the 60 meter dash prelims Saturday during the Cougar Indoor.

DYLAN GREENE, Evergreen sports editor

Silence fills the air as Ja’Maun Charles sets his feet in the blocks, cracks his neck, looks up and sees two white lines in front of him that appear to go on forever.

Suddenly, a deafening bang breaks the quiet and a cloud of white smoke appears to signal the start of the race.

Just under seven seconds later Charles crosses the finish line before his opponents.

“There is just something about the feeling you get when you win a race,” Charles said. “It’s like all the work you put in finally pays off.”

The junior sprinter has grown accustomed to this feeling throughout the season. He finished first in the 60-meter dash three times in the four meets he has competed in for WSU track and field.

“I really love the 60, but it’s a really tricky event to get down,” Charles said.

In the few seconds it takes to get from the start to the finish, one wrong step or mistake can be the difference in finishing first or last, he said. Charles embraces this challenge and puts in the time to make sure a slip never affects the outcome of his race.

Despite this commitment to his craft, Charles didn’t step foot on a track until his freshman year in high school. His father tried to get him involved in the sport ever since he could walk, but it never really sparked his interest.

Charles finally decided to give it a shot to appease his dad and hasn’t looked back since.

“I was really against it, but freshman year [my dad] was like ‘Look, just give it a year and we will see how it goes,’” Charles said. “I gave it a year and I ended up loving it.”

Charles’s dad ran track and field for WSU just over 20 years ago. He only competed for one year and returned home to raise his newborn son Ja’Maun.

His father was a sprinter, so naturally Charles was drawn toward that aspect of track. He tried different events to test the waters, but in the end, he followed in his father’s footsteps. He also played basketball for most of his life and admits running up and down the court helped him make the seamless transition to track.

The early success this season isn’t enough for Charles, though. He said he and Associate Head Coach Yogi Teevens are pushing the envelope by putting in extra work in the weight room, which he hopes will translate to even better results on the track.

Charles competes in the 200 and 4×400 meter relay as well as the 60 during the indoor season and runs the 100, 200, 400, 4×100 and 4×400 when the team transitions outdoors.

Director of Cross Country/Track and Field Wayne Phipps said Charles is one of a few select athletes that possesses the ability to participate in multiple events at a meet.

“That’s just a testament to Ja’Maun’s amazing talent,” Phipps said. “Not too many guys can have that sort of range.”

Charles said he is consistently setting new goals each week because he’s always trying to get that extra edge to improve his time.

Phipps said Charles’ dedication to improving each and every time he puts on a pair of running shoes makes him one of the top sprinters in the Pac-12.

“He is very set in creating his own path, his own potential legacy at WSU,” Phipps said. “I think he still has a lot of great things that he is going to accomplish by the time he is finished here.”

That drive, and the pressure Charles puts on himself to push boundaries, have helped him off the track as well.

“There’s always going to be pressure in everything in life,” Charles said. “You just have to figure out how you are going to handle it. You can fold underneath it or you can stand tall.”

Charles, a management information systems major, said it can be difficult to stay in peak condition while balancing the workload of school.

He said sometimes when he gets off practice he just wants to take a break and get some sleep, but he can’t because he has to stay ahead on homework. To keep track of his time and stay organized he uses a weekly planner and always has post-it notes on him.

Charles said when he began looking at where he wanted to go for college, he knew he wanted to get outside his home state of California and find somewhere that still felt like home. He found that perfect fit in Pullman.

“I’ve always been big on wanting to go out and experience new things,” Charles said, “because I feel like as a person you’re really only going to grow if you go outside of your comfort zone.”

Charles hopes to make nationals in both the indoor and outdoor track season and said after his college career is over, he plans on continuing to cross the finish line first.

“I feel like sky’s the limit. I would really love to run professionally, that’s my big dream,” he said. “I’m here putting in all the work and trying, why not go for it. Anything is possible.”

Whatever path life leads Charles down, he said he will always cherish the life lessons he learned through the sport.

“Track has my heart and always has since I started,” he said, “and probably always will.”